Flux 2011SNAG Conference Feed

CODE in Color Backgrounds for Art and Craft Photography

Hotbutton The background color for photography of art and craft is a hot topic with cool imagery.

The professional photographers and the editors at the Professional Development Seminar during the Seattle SNAG Conference gave this trend a very mixed answer, "yes" and "no."

A color background extends the canvas with which to create an expression. The color of the background can set up the context and communicate a broader message in the photograph. Let me repeat that with emphasis, a color background is sending a message whether the subject is food, cars, or artwork.

Talking-rain by Christopher Conrad
Photo by Christopher Conrad

In Christopher Conrad's photo above we read the cool blues and purples as mouth-watering and refreshing. The work and the background are both sending a tightly coordinated and integrated message. To the proper audience, the photo can be fantastic!

Metalsmithcolorblue In the Metalsmith Magazine cover to the left, the icy blue creates a dramatic color background. This color blue is crystalline like the brooch. They echo each other in a different way. The purpose of the cover is to be eye-catching on the newsstand. The colored background is editorial, and opinionated, definitely not neutral....but the question remains whether this particular color background is sending the message that the maker wants to send about their work.  

Metalsmith_YellowBkgrd While an editor may prefer an unusual color background for the cover of a magazine, the same answer will not be appropriate for a juried show, an Etsy listing, or gallery advertising.  It can be a total turn-off to a judge or jury, and still a great choice for only one particular situation.

Let's look at a few examples with color backgrounds ........

HilaryPfeifferEtsyLOVEhounds People often associate color with emotions. If you want people to think your work is girlie or lighthearted, think pink, or pastel as in the photo to the right from Hilary Pfeiffer's Etsy shop.


Red is emotionally charged and often represents seduction, anger, or power. Think Ferrari red, but then... it really isn't thinking at all. Red is emotional. Red is often used in restaurants from McDonald's, to high-end exclusive eating establishments because colors in the warm color family mildly excite the metabolism.

Doug Yaple.goblets Blue can be a calm emotionally restorative color as in the baby blue to steel blue range, whereas, darker navy blue is business, conservative, or elegant as in the photo to the right with a classic sensibility by Doug Yaple.

Chocolate-truffles These brown backgrounds from Christopher Conrad's food photography work perfectly. The background says chocolate. Notice how the soft lighting even gives a halo around the glass on the left further focusing the eye on the object. 

ChocolateBKpendent copy In contrast, the next photo on the left shows an ineffective brown background. The texture is distracting and fails to accentuate the object. The chocolate brown color has nothing to do with the jewelry. (I obscured the actual pendant to protect the identity.)  Do you think this background feels attractive, looks professional, or enhances the work? The brown texture reminds me of dirt, mud, painted sandpaper, or sh*t. This is an example of how a poorly chosen color background diminishes the effectiveness of the photo.  A standard graduated grey background would have served better.

DavidHworlBrownBack In David Huang's photo to the left, the graduated background color resonates perfectly with the top lighting and the colors of the sterling silver vessel and the root/fibrous forms.

What happens when the background and the object are not working in concert? The results will be confused....and the viewers are left wondering why, why, why.

Choose carefully or experiment with variations.  Know why you have selected a color background whether green, blue, teal, or red.

What is the purpose? What is the artist/maker trying to say?  Ask your friends for critique.  The risk is that photos are rejected from books, magazines, exhibitions, or juried opportunities just because of a poor-quality photo.

What works for one person’s work, one cover or postcard may not work for another situation, artwork, or artist's style of work.

Are you wondering what your color background says.....?


This post was updated on February 4, 2022, to provide current links.

Hands in the Photograph -The MAGIC Is ALL In The Hands

Gloves Magic hat.gr The world of art and craft is no "slight of hand" magic show.

Yet, there is a growing trend for including hands in photographs displaying jewelry, accessories, and clothing. This increases the need to pay attention to the hands used as props.  

HangnailsWrinkledskinA poorly chosen hand prop can detract from the work in the photo and ruin any chance of being accepted in a book, magazine, show, or exhibition. The harsh reality is that a bad photo is summarily dismissed as bad work. Conversely, a good photo is assumed to include good work until proven otherwise.


During the Professional Development Seminar (SNAG Conference 2011) several speakers mentioned the hand in photographic images.

 Marthe Le Van, the editor at Lark Books, showed us three example photos (left) with cut-up artist's hands, wrinkled skin and chipped fingernail polish. Needless to say, these photos were not included in a Lark Book.
Even a brief look online delivers an overabundance of BAD photos
that include regrettable choices of hand models or awkward hand positions. I have resisted the impulse to show more bad photos -- they are too easy to find.  I think you get the idea.
Great skin, unblemished hands, and a perfect manicure
with light to neutral nail polish is the first requirement for a hand model.

The gesture of the hand is equally important.

Handfist I secretly watch America's Next Top Model (please don't tell anyone) to learn about using models in photography. One of the primary issues when they critique the photos is the gesture of the hand. Avoid the claw shape hand position or a clenched fist. (Perhaps the photo to the upper left is an attempt to be forceful, to hide dirty fingernails, or maybe the ring doesn't fit, but it isn't working.)


Emiko oyehandholdingnecklaces
   Bracelet and Necklaces by  Reware
   Artist: emiko oye
   Photo Credit: emiko oye
   Model: Jen Ohara


Emiko oye photo shows a hand holding a whole group of bracelets.holdingbracelets
   Bracelets by Reware
   Artist: emiko oye
   Photo Credit: emiko oye
   Model: Jen Ohara

Graceful hands are your best choice to help viewers focus on the work.

In the photo to the right, a graceful hand gesture effectively holds an entire handful of necklaces. What a great way to capture the variety in your line of work.

Can't you just see these photos BLOWN-UP LARGE in the back of a craft show booth? What a way to attract an audience!

In the photo to the right, a stack of bracelets on the model's wrist with a few in her hand displays a whole group of work. Both of these photos are effective ways to showcase multiple pieces at the same time. They would be a great postcard, advertisement, or publicity shot.

Would I send these shots for a juried show?  Hmmm....that is a risky decision. Some shots, however fabulous, are not appropriate for every situation. It depends on the opportunity.

Jen hands EMIKO OYE
  Bracelets and Necklaces by Reware
  Artist: emiko oye
  Photo Credit: emiko oye
  Model: Jen Ohara

While these shots look simple, there were more than 30 other shots that were rejected from the same photoshoot. Plan on taking 20 to 40 shots of each pose, position, or idea.....then adjust the lighting, the bounce card, the model's hand, and the jewelry/accessories/clothing until the photo is just right.

How do I know?  I was there as the "photo stylist" and emiko oye was the photographer. It was a lot of seemingly repetitive effort, but in the end, a magical day.


This post was updated on February 4, 2022.

Photography in Flux - BAD Backgrounds Yield BAD Photos - Don't Let This Happen to Your Work

MartheLEvANKNITtexture While our panel of experts from "Photography in Flux" at the recent Professional Development Seminar (SNAG Conference Seattle) did not declare a "standard" for photography backgrounds, they did make it clear that BAD BACKGROUNDS create BAD PHOTOS. 

MartheLEvANBRISTLEtextureTo the right are two examples of bad backgrounds from Marthe Le Van's (editor of Lark Books) PowerPoint presentation.

In the following photos, I have concealed the identity of the jewelry item so that you can focus on just the bad backgrounds (and to protect the identity).  A short description of the PROBLEM and suggested SOLUTION follows each photo so that you can avoid such problems in your photos.

PROBLEM: In the photo above the texture of the background is too similar to the texture in the metal. (I would swear this is a dirty paper towel, but I could be wrong.) Additionally, the silver metal is very close to the color of the background. There is not enough contrast between the earring and the background.
A plain background without texture would have improved this photo. Perhaps a darker grey background may have provided more contrast between the earring and the background.


PROBLEM: The background in this photo has a distracting crease. When photographing jewelry, any defect in the background is simply too obvious.
SOLUTION: If your cardboard or paper background is damaged, do not use it. It will ruin your photo along with ruining any chance that your photos or work will be accepted.


PROBLEM: There is too much background in this photo. It appears that the necklace might be draped over a round ceramic container. The glaze has a moderately distracting pattern and a shiny reflective surface. The reflected "hot spot" on the container makes the photo not so good.
See the bright white reflection on the upper right? It ruins the overall image because it distracts the viewer from looking at the necklace. Obviously, this photo was taken with a single strong light source (not diffuse lighting) because the same hot spot is on the necklace.
SOLUTION: A plain background would be much less distracting. In addition, a diffuse or softened light source can be created by using translucent paper or by bouncing strong light off a foam core for a softer light.

PROBLEM: This necklace appears to be draped over the bottom of the same ceramic container. In addition to all the problems described above, we are distracted by looking at the random pattern of the unglazed ceramic bottom which is unfinished and unattractive.
Do not drape your jewelry over bowls, cups, or plates of any kind, ever. This never looks like a professional quality photo because professionals don't do this. Find another solution.


PROBLEM: The background for this photo is inconsistent and distracting from the pendent. The highly reflective surface creates dark shadows and washed-out highlights.
A plain simple background allows your work to shine, without competing with the background.


AHHbackground drape
Do not use draped fabric for your background. It always looks commercial and corny.
Plain paper or a photographic background is a conservative but safe choice that will work for most situations.


AhcupearringsPROBLEM: These earrings are draped over the rim of a cup. While this is a common practice, it is NOT a good photo. What do earrings have to do with a cup or bowl? Nothing! Professional photographers don't drape earrings on a cup or bowl. In addition, the background behind the cups is even more distracting with color, light, and reflection.
Andy Cooperman Earrings hanging from a mannequin, photo by Doug Yaple.SOLUTION: Earrings can be laid on a piece of paper, or hanging from a model or mannequin like this earring photo on the left by earring by Andy Cooperman.







PROBLEM: The dark shadow on the left side of the pendant and the pendent blend together. It creates a dark left half to the photo lacking interest. In addition, the pendant is dwarfed by too much background and the background has a touch of green in the upper right-hand corner. Why? This is not O.K.

SOLUTION: Your background needs to be consistent within the entire frame. Also, bounce light into the dark side of the pendant with foam core or aluminum foil over cardboard. See below for an improved photo.

AhODDangleDARK SOLUTION: I fixed this pendant image in Photoshop, lightening the left side of the photo enhancing the pattern and texture. Also by cropping off the green bit of background the pendent becomes the sole focal point of the image.

AhbowlBad photos are not limited to jewelry. The challenge of getting quality photographic images is very difficult for all media. Artists and makers should take it to heart that quality photographic images are interpreted as quality items, and vice versa, bad images are interpreted as poor quality work. AhdrapedonfabricGreat images can lead to professional success.

A BAD background sends an unintended message. This message may be amateurish, commercial, over-stylized, or have a dated appearance.

Most of these images were selected off the Internet without permission. In most cases, I obscured the actual item to avoid embarrassment by the maker.

Stay tuned to ASK Harriete for the next photographic issue raised during the Professional Development Seminar program Photography in Flux. The PDS was brought to you by the NEA, MJSA, and SNAG. New FLUX Seattle Logo  Small_V112010_   NEA  MJSA logo


Looking forward to the next post.


This post was updated on February 4, 2022.

Photography in Flux - We Have a Twitter Question!

TarabRANNIGANprofilepic2 During the Professional Development Seminar as part of the SNAG Conference we had "live blogging" by Tara Brannigan AND we had a Twitter question!

The question was addressed to Niche marketing speaker emiko oye from Tonya Davidson. Since we ran out of time during the PDS, she has answered it on ASK Harriete.

 “emiko, What tips do you have on finding models and determining costs?”

Emikoheadshot emiko says: When shooting your jewelry on models, it is important to select models that will not be distracting and that will be as complimentary as possible to your pieces.



EmikoOye model with good skin showing off her work. .




Good skin and posture are first and foremost.

As we heard Marthe Le Van comment during the Photography panel, as an editor she is very much turned off by body hair, cuts, bad manicures, and other distracting blemishes.

While it is permissible to Photoshop out pimples and blemishes,
you're better off starting with a healthier skinned model, especially if your Photoshop skills are less than expert.

Copy of emiko

  Academy of Art fashion show hires
  professional models for showcasing
  student work. Necklace by Elliot Gaskin

Dancers, yoga practitioners, and actresses/actors are the best models. They are most aware of how they hold themselves in their bodies. Dancers and actresses are most comfortable in front of the camera, plus know how to apply their own makeup.




Don't know any yogis, actresses, or models? Post signs at dance and yoga studios, find the studios on Facebook, and comment until someone replies. Ask your friends who they know, friends of friends are better contacts than cold-calling.

Photoshoot with emiko oye as photographer. It takes a whole
crew to work with a model.

Tips from emiko before shooting your work on a model:
Recycled Bracelets by Harriete Estel Berman 1. A manicure prior to their shoot time is important if you're shooting close-ups of hands. Pay for the model's manicure or offer to reimburse them.  

2. Makeup is essential, even if it is just pressed face powder, mascara, and lip gloss, the application of these makes a huge difference, especially in closeup shots.

Recycled  collar by Harriete Estel Berman, photograph by Emiko Oye800
3. Control flyaway hair
with hair products or have the model pull their hair back into a bun or ponytail.



Curtis Arima necklaces in Sterling silver and gold
Necklaces by Curtis Arima
Do you think the nipples are distracting?

4. Try to avoid complete nudity unless absolutely necessary for the piece and unless your model has the most perfect body. Nipples are distracting.

5. Think about the clothing your model will wear and either ask them to bring several pieces to choose from or provide something that will fit them.


I pay my models by the hour, including dressing/makeup prep time. It doesn't hurt to ask yourself what kind of wage would you want to earn? What is the cost of living in your city (NYC, NY models will cost you more than Des Moines, Iowa models, for example)?

How strenuous or difficult will the shoot be? (Is your work cumbersome or uncomfortable and thereby wearing it for over an hour a real chore for the model?)

Friends may prefer to trade for your jewelry, but I always offer to pay as an alternative, because people will work harder for you knowing they're getting money in exchange. Don't take advantage of friends, those favors only go so far--just think how you would want to be treated if the tables were turned!


Photography by emiko oye
Extremely Curly Recycled Bracelet
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

Remember to take many, many photos from all angles, change up the lighting, and have a surgeon's eye for detail during the shoot. You do not want to have to recreate this shoot!
Have fun!

Thank you emiko for answering this question on ASK Harriete.

This post was updated on February 4, 2022.

How to Build a Better Drop Shadow in Photoshop - A Step-by-Step Powerpoint and Handout

The recent Professional Development Seminar during the SNAG Conference offered an informative program titled "Photography in Flux." One of the pressing issues in art and craft photos is the growing popularity of the stark white background, often with a stylized shadow near the work.

ChristopherConrad1 As part of the Professional Development Seminar, Photographer Christopher Conrad prepared a Step-by-Step HANDOUT and PowerPoint for "How to Build a Better Drop Shadow" in Photoshop. Now both of these are available online for you to download and practice.


Step by step photoshop tutorial by Christopher Conrad for the Professional Development Seminar Both the PowerPoint and the Handout are step-by-step color images of this process in Photoshop. There is no complicated text, but beautiful didactic images so that you can do this yourself to improve the photographic images of your work with a soft and subtle shadow.

You can find the PDF handout on the SNAG website

Step by step photoshop tutorial by Christopher Conrad for the Professional Development Seminar

Below is the Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial as a PowerPointHow to Build a Better Shadow - A Photoshop Tutorial by Christopher Conrad


The issues surrounding the white background for art and craft photography were discussed extensively on ASK Harriete several months ago. You can find the posts about shadows below. Your comments are welcome either on this post or the previous posts. Your experience and opinions can help other artists.

Previous posts in the series Side by Side Comparisons of Different Photos:
Side-By-Side Comparisons - the White Background, Can You Cut It?

Side-By-Side Photos - Website Backgrounds Should be Consistent

Side-By-Side Photos - Clean or Complex Backgrounds?

Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos - the white background. Trendy or Technique?

Are You Being Judged by the Style of Your Images?

The photographers are revealed!

This post was updated on February 4, 2022.